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Sunday, April 29, 2007
Our Tuna Trolling Crew

Donee in a stunning survival suit
Steve "Drake" Bond out on a limb.............
Our companions on this lengthy venture spanned the fishing knowledge spectrum from expert to novice. Steve Bond and his wife, Donee, joined us in Golden Meadow, LA for a journey which would span the Caribbean, the South and the North Pacific Ocean. Steve was an Alaskan dragger and joint venture skipper nicknamed McIver for his ingenuity. Donee was an expert counselor and was broadening her skillset into the field of naturopathic medicine. She had never been on a boat. Steve constructed a neat stateroom for them atop the step cabin which included a double bunk, running water, and a bathtub! The rest of the fleet called it the plywood pimple, but I think they would have changed their minds had they been able to live in its comfort.

One trait of crews, and I include myself as crew, is that they invent bonding rituals to which all looked forward to every day, rough or roly poly. One of our rituals was a mug of hot chocolate in the afternoon. One of us would blend and serve it up for the others. I was also very grateful that Donee liked a clean boat as much as I did. With four of us on a 72’ boat, the space seemed to shrink the further along we went. It is a survival mechanism of life on boats that you keep tight lipped about your negative feelings about one another. Life’s too short to let them fester, and the mission was to catch as much albacore tuna as possible in two months. Donee claimed to be psychic and I was looking forward to her ability to locate the fish. We could have a big advantage!

What had been my great adventure of a lifetime, visiting Easter Island in my own boat, was morphing into the real time day to day hunt for fish. We would not see land for two to three months and our purpose was simple. Find and catch albacore. There were periods of great sadness for me that sunk in to the bone. The decision to fish on this trip meant my two teenagers were left in Seattle with their Dad and stepmother. At 15 & 16, they were well on their way to being the fine people they are today, but it was wrenching to be away from them. It was the long separation which hurt and made me quiet. They were my babies and I missed them with all my heart. Their pictures were on the wall of our stateroom. Those at home go on with their lives, but time stops for those at sea.


Saturday, April 21, 2007
Getting Going

Now that Easter Island is astern our focus shifts to gear, radio reports, water temperature, and weather reports. It is always a thrill for me to begin the season with a clean slate so to speak. We had sport fished on the way to Easter Island, but now the real thing began and every fish counted. Our life took a new turn as we disciplined ourselves to fish from before the crack of dawn until after sunset.

We shot down to the 35 line to begin our survey across the South Pacific Ocean. The 35 line is slang for 35 degrees South Latitude, an invisible band laterally around the earth. Tuna fishermen envision the ocean divided into squares or sections, each one degree by one degree. When we worked the 35 line we reported to the fleet our latitude and longitude exactly, and then modified it with “we’re going to work this section today” or we’re going to run down the 35 10 line and fish the breaks. One eye was on the ocean temperature. We looked for discrepancies in temperature, anomalies indicating a larger variant in temperature than normal. A gradient of 1 or 2 degrees could mean the edge of an upwelling or a surface current. Oftentimes, bait hung on one side or the other of these temperature breaks. Albacore lurked underneath, swimming around in the thermocline area 30 to 40 fathoms under us. Their excellent eyesight searches for glimmers and flashes from bait fish like sauries and needlefish. Albacore dart to the surface at thirty miles an hour and snatch a quick meal.

We search for bait schools in two ways. The first is to keep an eye peeled for birds. Often birds indicate bait on the surface, and that in itself indicates bait schools underneath. Bait will congregate under flotsam. We have found albacore under bait which is under a floating log or flattened cardboard boxes. The sonar is our underwater eyeball and it indicates bait schools nicely. In the typical choppy southern pacific however, it sometimes was hampered by the energetic gyrations of the hull in rough seas.

The southern latitudes remind readers of Tahiti and Polynesia. Our reality was the hundreds of square miles of open ocean with weather fronts barreling from west to east bringing mostly adverse wind and copious waves. The swells underneath waxed and waned as they rolled under, originating in the deep southern latitudes below 50 degrees or from a typhoon above us and to the west. The surface chop of wind waves added to the discomfort of riding in and on a gyrating steel boat. At one point, a wave caught us funny and the boat lurched over, up, and sideways. The coffee grounds flew off Mr. Coffee and broadcast themselves like grass seed all over the galley floor. As I sat on the floor, under the galley table, wiping it up with wet paper towels. I prayed for the boat to stop moving just for five minutes. It was nearly intolerable to the point of tears. There is no quitting 1000 miles from the nearest port. But you suck it up and clean it up and get back to work without any fanfare. After two incidents of flying coffee grounds I made a thin bungee cord to hold them in. Everything that could fly around on the boat was bungeed or bolted down….the microwave, the toaster, the rice cooker, etc. Dishes left in the sink would rattle annoyingly or Frisbee themselves airborne in a big sea.

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Sunday, April 15, 2007
Trolling the South Pacific

Out of concern that many of my readers think Steve and I are actually in the South Pacific today, I bring into this narrative a dose of real-time stuff. First of all, in the throes of a cold wet winter here in Washington State, I set about to mind travel on a journey to the tropics and to fulfill a request to recount some of our fishing experiences. This tale occurred fifteen years ago and Steve is currently fishing in Southern California for sardines with the F/V Papa George.

Recently I attended a yearly meeting with our tuna marketing association, WFOA, in Astoria, OR. One of my friends was startled to see me because she had heard that I was fishing in the South Pacific. I could only wish that it was true. With tuna trolling, one must live in the moment and enjoy it or else be miserable. It is amazing that so many folks I have met envy this lifestyle and yet have no idea as to the amount of time it takes to be out there, fishing day to day on the open ocean. This is the reason I have set out to tell a few tales about life at sea, first as a tuna troller, and eventually going back to the nineteen seventies through 2000 as a salmon seiner in Alaska and Washington.

The most stunning news at the WFOA meeting was the scientific news on the role of selenium in salt-water fish. We listened to Dr. Laura Raymond explain that selenium and mercury bind together and neutralize any potentially harmful effects of mercury. Nature has provided for the occurance of mercury in fish by supplying a large amount of selenium vs. mercury ( a 15:1 ration in albacore) so that mercury is cancelled out. Sixteen of the 25 best sources for selenium are ocean fish.

In addition to this great research was the release of a twelve year study of the effects of seafood consumption on the neurological development of babies and children. Basically, the result was that mothers who ate seafood three or more times a week had smarter kids with higher IQ's and better developmental skills than mothers who ate no fish. To quote one of the scientists in this study, published in the British medical journal The Lancet, Dr. Joseph Hibbeln suggests, " Advice that limits seafood consumption might reduce the intake of nutrients necessary for optimum neurolgical development." This statement is in the face of all the dier warnings about seafood and should make the government agencies rethink their pronouncements against eating saltwater fish. In essence, there is no mercury crisis in saltwater fish! And again with feeling, "Seafood is Brain Food." I have always believed that Papa George Gourmet Albacore is a wonderful tasty source for Omega-3's and that the mercury issue pales in the face of the excellent nutrition offered by our tuna.
PS. I must refute the advertisement at the top of this page which says tuna causes brain rot. Papa George Tuna does not endorse this ad and again remains steadfast against attempts to demonize tuna as a harmful food source.


Saturday, April 07, 2007
The Magic Island Bids Goodbye

Our charter across the South Pacific to hunt for albacore was beginning, the fleet was catching, so the inevitable was upon us. Knowing it would be at least two months before we walked on dry land again, I dug my toes into the sand with extra emphasis. The boat lay at anchor ready for sea, all was stowed and tied down. It was merely a case of breaking down the raft and running to the 35 degree South Latitude line. From there, work west until we connected with the fleet which was south of Tahiti by a good eight hundred miles.

Steve and I had worked on the Papa George for two years in Louisiana while still seining for salmon in the summer up in Southwestern Alaska. Now our task was to work the boat as a tuna troller and make the conversion pay. The reality of the bottom line descends like a dark curtain at times, especially when the hold is empty and two months of fishing looms on the horizon. If anything would slice through my gloom of facing reality and missing my family, it was Easter Island in the afternoon throes of a misty rain shower. As we throttled up and set our course, three rainbows arched over the island beside us. I could only capture two in the camera lens. Easter Island was putting on one last show. The magical and haunting island said goodbye as this chapter of chasing lifelong rainbows came to an end.

Sunday, April 01, 2007
Anakena Beach

All adventures must progress through to the inevitable end. The two fishermen bade us goodbye from the boat harbor with many thanks for the tuna gear we gave them. I promised to send them some new gloves and large hooks for yellow fin and big eye as well as some stainless steel wound tuna wire and wire leaders. The anchor ground up slowly in the winch as we squared away for the other side of the island and Anakena.

As the beach came in view, so did the several moai under the palms. These moai were dug out of the sand and placed upright with their red headdresses on by Thor Heyerdahl’s 1955-56 archeological expedition. The beach’s white sand draws Rapanuians for a vacation from town. They camp out in the caves offered under the nearby cliffs. Out paddled a sailboarder from Germany and a snorkeler from Hanga Roa to visit. We shared our barbecued fish and rice and some wine which made us all immediate friends. The zodiac took us to shore for one last time before heading out for two months.

The moai were well preserved, displaying little of the degradation by wind and rain marring the moai at Ranu Raruku. The eyes shone of bright white shell with obsidian pupils. The carvings of the solar plexus, the hands, and other petroglyph type carvings were quite clear instead of eroded. Under their watchful gaze Rapanuian families picnicked and swam as their ancestors may have done.

In the afternoon we worked on finalizing our preparation for sea, tying everything down inside and out, checking the fluid levels in the compressors, turning on the refrigeration
in preparation for multitudes of albacore, and cleaning out the water tank one more time. We had filled it with fuel initially, in Louisiana where fuel was cheap, and then cleaned it out for use as a water tank. Lucky we had a water maker with a 200 gallon per day capacity. Nevertheless, we had dieselly showers the remainder of the trip, and our drinking water came from a small tank uncontaminated by fuel. Our water wasn’t great and our galley reefer was still broken! I had to use blue ice the entire trip, changing eight pounds of it every twelve hours. On a modern fishing vessel it was not uncommon for the little amenities to fail. For women, the worst was for the toilet to break.

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